Release Date: Oct. 16, 2015
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writer: Guillermo del Toro & Matthew Robbins
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver
MPAA Rating: R
These days, the horror genre has become synonymous with slasher films.
When we think of horror, we tend to think of a group of protagonists (usually teens) running from a supernatural force that is picking them off one by one. These films are full of suspense, scary psych out moments and gore and usually culminate with one select hero escaping this attacker, but with an ending that allows for multiple sequels.
Crimson Peak doesn’t fit into this category. It has supernatural forces, suspense and a fair amount of gore, but it isn’t a slasher film. Instead, it’s more of a Gothic horror that feel reminiscent of the works of writers like Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe.
The story centers around aspiring writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), who falls for mysterious businessman Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who comes into town with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) looking to finance the automated equipment he’s designed to revitalize the family’s clay mines. Edith’s father Carter (Jim Beaver) is instantly suspicious of the Sharpes, hoping instead Edith will marry the town’s physician, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam).
Her father’s objections only push Edith closer to Thomas. She ends up marrying him and returning with Thomas and Lucille to their family’s house in England. It becomes clear that all is not right at the Sharpe house, which has been nicknamed “Crimson Peak” because of the way the red clay comes up through the ground, looking like blood. The house is dilapidated and creepy and Edith begins seeing ghosts who seem to be trying to warn her about a grave danger.
While the film tips its hand early that all is not right with the Sharpes, it does a good job building suspense about what they are really up to. There aren’t the type of scares you normally see in horror films. (Even when the ghosts show up, they never feel as imposing or terrifying as typical slasher film villains.) Instead, there is a slow building tension and sense of unease the permeates the film as we gradually learn the truth.
It is also, unsurprisingly, a beautiful film. Co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro has made a career creating visually-stunning films like Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and Pacific Rim. I love how he made the house a character in Crimson Peak. From the leaves coming through the roof in the foyer to the creaky, rusted elevator, the house is full of creepy little details that make you feel unsettled as Edith explores her uninviting habitat. The way the clay comes up through the snow to make it look like people have bloody footprints is a particularly wonderful detail.
I have to admit that I was a bit underwhelmed by the ghosts, which surprised me. Del Toro tends to create really memorable monsters, particularly in Pan’s Labyrinth. He often plays with asymmetry to create creatures that look and move unnaturally. The ghosts in Crimson Peak looked cool enough, but weren’t weird or distinct enough to be memorable. They were mostly monochromatic (red, naturally) and pretty cookie cutter in appearance.
The performances in the film were all quite good. Tom Hiddleston has perfected playing a “mysterious outside who can’t be trusted,” which serves his well in this role. You totally understand why Edith would fall for Thomas while never completely trusting him yourself. Jessica Chastain is fantastic as Lucille, who is immediately unsettling and resentful of Edith’s presence. Her perfect deadpan coldness is played for both comedic value and suspense. Jim Beaver is charming and engrossing as Edith’s protective father. And Mia Wasikowska herself proves to be a sympathetic protagonist.
The film may not be what you’d expect from a horror film. Slasher fans are likely to find the suspense and pace of the movie underwhelming. But if you go in with an open mind, you are likely to be swept up in the film’s engrossing story and beautiful visuals. It’s a return to an older, forgotten style of horror, but one I find incredibly refreshing.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org